[This is part of streets.mn’s “transpo convo” series, which aims to be an oral history of getting around the Twin Cities, one person at a time.]
The other day I was walking around a northern Merriam Park grid. I focused on roughly 6 blocks that are bordered by Snelling Ave., Saint Anthony Ave., Pierce St., and University Ave. My purpose was unrelated to writing this post, but after listening to several residents of the neighborhood, I felt compelled to write about what they told me.
The residents that I encountered are mostly people who rent and have lived in the neighborhood an average of 6 years, though some have lived there longer. Some have school-aged children, some are older and either had no children or their children are adults. A majority are African American.
All had positive things to say about their neighborhood, such as how people know each other and how the two churches in this area provide services for the community.
Everyone has seen changes within this small neighborhood during their time here. A majority of people living in this small area rent. There are single family homes, but many of them are also rentals.
People in this neighborhood have experienced high turnover of landlords for certain properties. Some smaller multi-unit dwellings used to be owner occupied and are now owned by people who live outside the neighborhood or even outside of the city. Residents say their biggest issue is being in a situation where their units are not necessarily healthy to live in, yet they don’t feel that the city is responsive to their complaints of absentee landlords.
Another change one resident noted is an increase in litter from 6 years ago. She wondered where the pride in the neighborhood went. But others were waving a white flag. They feel like the neighborhood has once again become an “anything goes” part of the city. One man wondered why he was told that the mayor thinks that people camping out behind his apartment building was okay for this neighborhood but not okay for downtown. He has decided that “you can’t fight the city.”
Some residents were on edge about more apartment units being built in the area along University Avenue, especially given so many concerns about absentee landlords of current apartment buildings. Residents were also concerned about adding more people without adding more jobs to the area.
People in this small neighborhood generally liked seeing businesses open up within walking distance. Several people mentioned the recently added Denny’s as a positive for the neighborhood. Some mentioned the soccer stadium that is likely to be built across the street at the Midway Shopping Area. People’s biggest concern was that the stadium would leave too much open and empty space for loiterers and strewn trash.
People in this area expressed a belief that no one really cares about this neighborhood, in terms of city/neighborhood relations. Yet, they themselves expressed caring for themselves and their neighbors, and seemed to express a sense of belonging to the area.
Stability, safety, cleanliness: it seems fair to say that residents in every neighborhood desire these same things. There may be no easy fixes to the concerns of the neighbors in this community. But the residents believe that they are never heard, that no one cares about their concerns. That seems to be an easy enough fix. We have advocacy groups and community organizations that set up listening events.
Perhaps these groups need to listen harder, without preconceptions. Maybe empowering residents through education about local elections, resources available to assist with landlord problems, and providing advocacy for concerns that people bring up would help. There are no doubt endless ideas. But the most important part to continue to have strong neighborhoods is to make sure people in the neighborhoods are heard and are given opportunities to effect positive change that they want, even if that change is somewhat different than what advocates living outside of the neighborhood see as positive for the community.